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The Saga of WBUZ-FM


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Dedicated in memory of Jim Collins



 

The Saga of WBUZ-FM
& How It Ultimately Changed Radio Listening

1947

The Federal Communications Commission granted a construction permit for a new FM station to the Chesapeake Broadcasting Company, Inc. in late 1947 to build and operate an FM station on 96.7 megacycles at Bradbury Heights, Maryland, "just over the District of Columbia line".

Furniture dealer Arthur Baldwin Curtis was President of Chesapeake Broadcasting, which selected and was granted WBUZ-FM as call letters for the 1KW station. By the end of the year, the station was authorized to use 420 watts Effective Radiated Power.

WBUZ-FM's transmitter and 255 foot tower were located at Bradbury Heights with studios & offices in the WM&A bus station at 1510 Southern Avenue in SE, DC.

 

 

1948

The station originally announced a target date for sign-on of Christmas, 1947 but delays caused by the failure of some equipment to arrive postponed WBUZ-FM's debut airdate to January 18th, 1948. Programming consisted of a hodge-podge of local shows including:

 

7 - 9AM "Buzzin' with Freddie"
1PM "Fur, Feather & Fin",
a pet show with Margaret Hines
1:35PM "Hollywood News" with Roberta Rule
(a secretary at the station)
11PM - 12 mid "Slumber Hour"
Sunday 2:45PM "Little Red Schoolhouse",
a child talent show
Various times Women's Commentator - Muriel Evans

 

In an article from the Washington Post dated February 1, 1948 (barely two weeks after the station signed on), much was made of the station being self-supporting in terms of advertising revenue and not dependent on an AM sister station to keep it afloat financially.

 

 

1949

During 1949, Chesapeake Broadcasting's Treasurer (& WBUZ-FM's General Manager), Leslie L. Altman was named President of Chesapeake Broadcasting. WBUZ-FM then began the practice of 'transit-casting', playing music for the fleet of busses of the Washington, Marlboro & Annapolis Bus Line (which Leslie L. Altman was Founder & President of).

 

 

1950

In 1950 Leslie L. Altman acquired 22.24% of the Chesapeake Broadcasting Co. in a reorganization move that may have been precipitated by financial concerns. The reason for the abandonment of local programming on WBUZ-FM is not clear but it's possible that once the novelty of the new station wore off, advertiser interest in it may have waned to the extent that the station could not support it's operating expenses.

 

 

1951

The WBUZ-FM transmitter tower in Bradbury Heights was felled by vandals on October 13th, 1951. At the time, the WM&A Bus Line was the target of a labor dispute with its drivers. The station later returned to the air with 50 watts using a temporary antenna until a new tower could be erected and full power restored.

 

 

1952

In 1952, the 'transit-casting' concept, in vogue over a number of independently operated FM stations across the United States, was attacked by the Transit Riders Association, winning at the U.S. Supreme Court level the right not to hear FM commercial programming on municipal transportation. The practice was discontinued in 1953. Programming during this period is not known.

 

 

1953

WBUZ-FM applied for an increase in power to 6.3KW in May 1953, the same month the City of License was changed from Bradbury Heights to a new subdivision, Oakland, MD. On June 8, 1953 the FCC authorized the station to raise power again to 18,000 watts.

 

 

1954

The power increase and potential interference elsewhere on the dial may have been why WBUZ-FM changed frequencies from 96.7 to 95.5 in 1954 (power was also brought down to 16.5KW). That year, WBUZ-FM's President Leslie L. Altman named Leslie Smith as the new General Manager.

 


1955

Financial difficulties cause WBUZ-FM to go silent. Several applications with the FCC to extend the temporary authorization to remain silent yet retain ownership of the license are approved by the Commission during this time.

 

 

1956

A former WPGC DJ approached the Chesapeake Broadcasting Company with a proposal to adopt a similar format of Pop, Country and Standards like WPGC's on WBUZ-FM. Coinciding with the relaunch of the station, on March 30th, 1956, WBUZ-FM changed its call letters to WRNC-FM. (Today the WBUZ call letters are used by an Active Rock station in Nashville). The format was short lived and the FM returned to darkness on the dial.

When WPGC had been granted FCC approval on April 14, 1955 to increase power to 10,000 watts it was discovered the ground conductivity beneath the original transmitter site in Morningside was poor. Additionally, because of potential interference problems with a station on 1580 in Canada as well as the sign on of WCMC in Towson, MD on 1570, this necessitated additional space for a three tower, directional array. WPGC began a search for property which led to the WBUZ-FM site at 6369 Walker Mill Road. WPGC began leasing property from WBUZ-FM (now WRNC-FM) to erect the three new AM towers in 1956.

With the demise of WRNC-FM's format, WPGC struck another deal to lease the now vacant studio and office space above the WM&A bus repair facility at 4421 Southern Avenue in Coral Hills, MD, across the street from the DC line.

Later that year, in an effort to add nighttime programming to WPGC-AM's daytime only operation, WRNC-FM was purchased from the Chesapeake Broadcasting Company by WPGC-AM, Inc. (which had been on the air for barely two years). $5.00 was paid for the station license and $10,000 for its equipment and tower. FCC approval took place on November 20th, 1956.

At this time, WPGC-AM owner Maxwell Evans Richmond became President of WRNC-FM and named WPGC-AM's General Manager, Gene Winters as General Manager of WRNC-FM as well.

 


1957

A long drawn out process of upgrades to the FM such as the dismantling of the WRNC-FM tower and relocation of the FM antenna to the side of one of the three new AM towers as well as the construction of new FM studios at the transmitter site began in preparation to simulcast WPGC but was continually delayed by factors such as a community group's objection to construction of additional radio towers in their neighborhood, an extended period of inclimate weather and a developer's refusal to sell adjacent property to WPGC / WRNC-FM.

 

 

1958

WRNC-FM changed call letters to WPGC-FM in mid-March 1958. (Today the WRNC call letters are assigned to an AM Country station not presently on the air in suburban Atlanta). Power on the FM was reduced to 15.7KW.

 

 

1959

Robert Howard joined the station early in the year as its new General Manager. A huge fan of Big Band music, when the FM returned to the air from new studios at the transmitter site at 6369 Walker Mill Road in Oakland, MD in February 1959 he changed the format in the evening after the AM had signed off to Big Band music. On July 2nd, 1959, the FCC authorized the station to mount the FM antenna on the north (280 foot) tower of the AM's array.

By this time, the Washington, Marlboro & Annapolis Bus Line was sold to an employee group and Founder, Leslie L. Altman retired to Florida where he resided until his death in 1966.

 

 

1960

The FM dropped its Big Band format in 1960 and resumed simulcasting 100% with the AM during daytime hours which has since gone 100% Rock & Roll as 'The New Sound of WPGC' under new Program Director Dean Griffith (Dean Anthony) from WGH, Norfolk (who took his last name from the Washington Senators' Griffith Park).

 

 

Epilogue

During the '60's as Baby-Boomers grew up with WPGC, the station continually conditioned its listeners to 'tune over now' to the FM band when the AM would sign-off at dusk. By the '70's those teenagers were now young adults who had long been accustomed to listening to the FM side of the station at night. As FM grew during the decade they migrated over willingly from the AM in other dayparts too. Efforts to bolster the presence of the FM as a hedge against AM attrition can be found in a Billboard article from July 8, 1972 in which Program Director 'big' Wilson details his efforts to apply AM mechanics to the FM.

The results speak for itself. By 1974, WPGC-FM eclipsed the ratings of WPGC-AM for the first time. Two years later in 1976, listenership to FM radio as a whole in Washington surpassed that of AM as a whole for the first time, making DC the first FM dominant market in the country due in no small part to WPGC's long time effort to convert cume over from the AM to the FM.

Today, WPGC-FM's Urban, Hip-Hop format is the #1 rated station in DC and can trace its roots directly back to that little 1,000 watt FM pioneer, WBUZ.

 

 

Print Materials

Articles

Click on image below to see enlargement.

12/07/47

©

(Thanks to Bob Bell
of DCMemories.com for the above).

 


Bradbury Heights Didn't

Sunday, 02/01/48

©

 

Books

Click on image below to see enlargement.

© 2008 The University
of North Carolina Press

 

 

 

Sound Files

Misc. Audio

02/29/04 Ed Walker on: Moving to Coral Hills Facility & WBUZ - 1:07
02/29/04 Ed Walker on: WBUZ broadcasting to WM&A busses - :34

 




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